11/11/2009 12:00:00 AM
LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page
Nov 11, 2009
Marat Safin famously remarked that despite his fear of dentists, he'd still rather get a root canal than play this guy. Because of his crafty, wicked ways, Pete Sampras dubbed him "The Magician." Oh yeah. With his two-handed forehand, trick volleys and funhouse point construction, no one pissed off more power baseliners – and in doing so delighted more tennis fans – than Fabrice Vetea Santoro.
The Frenchman may not have hoisted any Grand Slam singles trophies (or hell, even cleared the quarters), but he certainly rained on many a No 1's parade, downing the likes of Sampras, Agassi, Connors, Becker, Edberg and Federer (twice). Not to mention Safin, who he owned throughout their career. Alas, the show is over, with Santoro saying au revoir and pulling the trap door on his 21-year career this week in Paris.
The Sweet Spot caught up Fabrice, who shared his personal greatest hits, his thoughts on saying good-bye, and what he hopes we remember him most for (hint: it ain't the trick shots).
Sweet Spot: Fabrice, why is it that no one else can play like you? What is everyone else doing wrong?
Fabrice Santoro: (laughs) Everyone else is doing good! I'm just doing different. You know, if I was able to hit the forehand like Agassi, Sampras or Federer, believe me I would do it. I just play the way I can. It's the only way I can be competitive. And I'm very lucky, because this way to play tennis is very…funny. So every time I go on the court, I really enjoy. I'm happy to be there.
It shows. You know how to work the crowd. When they go to one of your matches, they know they're going to see something different.
The Magician's Last Act
Fabrice: Because every ball is different for me. It's always an opposition of style between my opponent and me. So even after 21 years on tour, I keep enjoying to be out there and fight and fight and fight against my opponent.
What's the greatest match you ever played? Your best fight and fight and fight?
Fabrice: When France won the Davis Cup in Australia in 2001, it was huge for me, it was huge for the team, it was huge for the country. Also when I beat Marat Safin at the French Open was big for me. Every [one of my] 6 titles was special. I remember when I played Federer in New York 3 or 4 years ago at night.. I lost, but it was 7-5, 7-5, 7-6. It was a great, great match.
Why do you have to go? Can't you stay forever?
Fabrice: (smiles) Why? Because at some time you have to face this decision. When I was 30 years old, some players, some coach said 'ah, you're 30 years old, it's time for you to do something else.' I said, no, I want to keep playing it a bit more, one, two more year. And if I'm looking at what I did between 30 years old and now, almost 37--
You won both your Australian Open doubles titles, your mixed title at the French…
Fabrice: So thank God I didn't hear those people. But I think it's like that for all professional tennis players. You can't be sure of the right time to stop. It's easy to say, oh you could play one or two more years. Which is maybe true. But I'm healthy, I play good, I have a good ranking (he's currently No 54). Do you think I have to wait to be bad, to be injured, to stop? I don't think it's a good idea.
What are you most proud of in your career? What do want people to remember you for?
Fabrice: (thinks hard) I was a good player when I was 16, 18, 20. But I was better at 25. Better at 30. Better at 35. That means every day I tried to improve. Every day I was thinking about my game, how could I be a better player. That was my main goal. How to be a better player. And a better person.
Where's the next Santoro? Please tell me he's in the juniors somewhere.
Fabrice: It's hard. The way I play is hard to teach. I don't want to say you will never see someone who plays like me again, but the chances are very very very very small.
Santoro teased that he might return for the Australian Open, becoming the first player to play Slams in four different decades (his first, the '89 French Open). But he confirmed that Paris is indeed his final appearance on tour. Ugh, Fabrice. Still toying with us to the very end.
MUST YOUTUBE: Fabrice Santoro/Benny Hill (No, he doesn't actually play Benny Hill, it's just the very fitting accompanying music for a compilation of dizzyingly great points. You know that between the legs shot Fed hit at this year's US Open that was hailed as the greatest shot in tennis history? Fabrice does it. Twice.)
I'll never leave you baby. Follow me at Twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.